Ahead of her professional mixed martial arts debut in 2007, Canadian Alexis Davis never could have imagined how far fighting would take her.
Like many women's MMA pioneers, the Port Colborne, Ont. native didn't think she would get rich by slapping on a pair of four-ounce gloves. She simply wanted to test her skills against a tough opponent.
Though her first outing saw her suffer a TKO loss to former Strikeforce champ and current UFC women's bantamweight Sarah Kaufman, Davis fell in love with the thrill of competition. She also knew she had what it took to be a champion.
"I remember my first goal," Davis recalled recently. "I was like, 'Okay, I just want to get a belt.' Then I got my first belt — I won a belt in amateur Muay Thai, I got my first jiu jitsu belt and I had my Raging Wolf (women's flyweight) belt.
"Now the next step is to get that UFC belt."
Following more than seven years competing against the best women fighters in the world — and amassing an impressive 16-5 record, which includes a 3-0 run since joining the UFC — Davis is now set to challenge UFC women's bantamweight titleholder Ronda Rousey in the co-main event of UFC 175 in Las Vegas July 5.
As she prepares for the biggest fight of her life, Davis admitted she is still in awe of her journey to the spotlight.
"It's been almost surreal for me," Davis said. "Obviously, I just started out like most people — I just kind of did it for fun. I never thought I'd be living in California and be fighting for a UFC title. I just enjoyed it so much that I wanted to keep doing it.
"It's crazy because I'm a girl from a small town in Ontario, Canada and now I have all these huge opportunities. The world has kind of opened to me. I feel like I'm almost in a dream world. I'm just grateful for how far I've come in life and the experiences I'm able to have."
Though Davis can fondly reminisce about her long road to the top, she's hardly standing around enjoying the view.
Not only would a victory over Rousey mean bigger paydays, it would also allow her to join the ranks of Carlos Newton and Georges St-Pierre as the sole Canadian UFC champions.
Davis said she aims to etch her name in the history books alongside the former welterweight titleholders.
"(I was) the first Canadian woman to be signed with the UFC and now the first to fight for a title," Davis said. "The next step is to hopefully be the first one to bring that belt back home.
"Time's really flying. To have this opportunity in that short amount of time — and even to just be able to fight for a belt — it doesn't happen too often. I know the division is kind of small, but every single day it's growing. I'm just trying to live in the moment. This is my moment in time."
Of course in order to get the job done, Davis has to become the first fighter to solve the riddle of Rousey.
A 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist and undefeated in MMA, Rousey has looked as unbeatable as any champion on the UFC roster.
Early in her career you could pretty much set your watch to her winning via first-round armbar. However, in her last trip to the octagon four months ago, Rousey displayed a new edge to her game by dispatching Sara McMann with a vicious knee to the liver.
Davis admitted she isn't completely sure what to expect from Rousey, but said she is ready for wherever the fight may take her.
"Ronda's progressed as a fighter," Davis said. "Now, I have to deal with a different side of her, too. She's been working a lot on her standup, which we saw in her last fight with her hands, her footwork and her knees. So I'm not quite sure what kind of style we're going to see Ronda come out with. You kind of have to be prepared for everything."
Though Rousey has made a career of finishing top fighters in violent fashion, Davis presents a tough challenge.
A black belt in both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jujutsu, she is arguably the most skilled grappler Rousey has ever faced. Her Muay Thai background was also on full display during her dissection of Liz Carmouche in November.
Davis said Rousey has never fought an opponent quite like her.
"I feel like I'm the most well-rounded fighter she's ever had to deal with," Davis said. "I'm comfortable on my feet and I'm also comfortable on the ground.
"I'm pretty much dangerous no matter what. Every single fight my Muay Thai gets better — dangerous kicks, dangerous strikes — along with the ground, as well. She hasn't fought a fighter with as many qualifications as I have. Either way, I think I'm going to give her more of a challenge than she's ever had to face before."
Davis said she plans to stun the MMA world.
"(Fans) should expect complete chaos," Davis said. "Ronda has that style that brings out the best in me, where she's constantly adding pressure and on the attack. It's going to be a very fast-paced, non-stop fight."